Book Review: The Longest Walk (2015)

“My epic trek from tip to tip of the Americas” (1977-1983), Author’s Edition
by George Meegan, Free Man Publishing Company, 2015

TLWSure there’s a lot of background to the ultimate edition of a sleeper book that I expect will fire the popular imagination of large numbers of youth of the world who still read… in no time at all. George Meegan is a one-of-a-kinder, who grew up from nothing in jolly ol’ England, dreamed of being an adventurer, dropped out of school to join the British merchant marine, then decided one day he would walk the Americas from South to North. And did.

This account doesn’t have any counterpart in the literature of the ages: it’s at once a journal and also an ever-morphing flow of humanity through the window of an intrepid Englishman’s eyes and shoes (twelve pair, 19,019 miles). It’s an indescribable delight to join with this work as its final editor, to appreciate the original writing, of course, yet also the fine editing work performed by exceptionally caring individuals at Dodd, Mead, and Company before it succumbed to death by the conglomerates—here’s the kicker, Dodd, Mead went belly up just as Longest Walk the First is about to go to press!

Very bad timing. Mr. Meegan, in 1982/1983 was receiving accolades and media attention from People magazine to the Today Show to the Studs Terkel radio program out of Chicago. He had paid speaking engagements with noteworthy adventurers’ clubs, universities, and various other public interest organizations. He was on the threshold of true (and well-deserved) celebrity for his remarkable tip-to-tip, record-breaking walk of all time. Moreover, the ‘salt of the earth’ experience of his walk was turning George into a leading-edge, global, child-focused educational innovator and cultural preservationist. (Which he now regards as his mission in life, producing a second book, Democracy Reaches the Kids (DRK).

The point is that the stillbirth of the epic story of the walk set George adrift from resources that might have a) perhaps led to a film treatment of the journey—some additional fame and fortune there—and b) helped him pursue the teaching-preservationist activism with adequate development funds. The radical advocate of noncompulsory (nongovernment) teaching and learning (and multiple-times public school teacher of the year in New York), John Taylor Gatto, became a close personal friend of Meegan, referring to George’s achievement as “a testament to the unaided human potential and an inspiration to us all.”

Indeed, in Gatto’s foreword to DRK he further comments on Meegan’s continuation from a close brush in the early 1980s with wide, lasting acclaim:

… he found additional ways to add value to the human community. At the turn of the Millennium he staged an international ceremony … (John put ´North Pole.´ Accurately it was at the northernmost village in the world Barrow – Eskimo – having embarked years before from the southernmost, in Patagonia.) … bearing the flags of his journey to greet the New Century and to honour the Native Peoples; he inspired his daughter to star in a documentary film in which she walked the Japanese islands between cheering crowds drawn from the man traditional cultures in the archipelago; he developed a culture based curriculum at Kobe University in Japan.

Losing his position at Kobe for bureaucratic reasons, George went on to Ecuador to try to secure another university teaching position while cultivating his education reforms as best he could. He did manage some teaching of children in the elementary ranks there. But he continued to find difficulty earning a living or moving forward with his calling… until iconoclastic, independent shoestring world traveler Bo Keeley, met him and took an interest. Keeley helped to reconstruct the Dodd, Mead book into the so-called Third Edition of The Longest Walk — inserting some of the extraordinary photographs in George’s possession and some enhanced appendix material.

This latest edition of The Longest Walk, referred to as the Author’s Edition, has some styling and construction improvements (enabling a Kindle ebook), and another thorough copyedit to remove a handful of errors yet remaining from the Dodd, Mead version. The latest version also has been created under Mr. Meegan’s own publishing account, affording George the ability to buy his print copies at the author’s rate… to facilitate reasonable compensation on distribution under his auspices.

A couple of comments on the book from an editing perspective: It’s extremely well-written. The author has a knack for getting a point across or describing a scene efficiently yet with a touch of humor and panache. He’s connected to his subject matter… especially to every one of the thousands of people he interacted with along the way—George doesn’t stereotype or exhibit anything but a sociologist’s benevolent curiosity toward those he meets. The only caveat I might have is that the narrative of the journey through the north country seems compressed in comparison to the time spent south of the US border.

But all the publishing history and editing is just machinery. What matters is the essence of the book. This is the description of the book I wrote on the Createspace publishing page:

… the significance of his feat is found in the intrepid spirit of Mr. Meegan himself: One reviewer has called the story ‘transcendent;’ there is no better word to describe it.

By pushing himself toward his dream, overcoming obstacles that boggle the mind, escaping grim death many times, enduring discomforts that are difficult even to read, interacting with innumerable people (many supportive and kind, many incredibly hostile), embracing presidents and pawns with the same cheerful countenance… George Meegan is the true-blue, real McCoy, all-American dreamer (for some unfathomable reason he adores and adopts America as his soul-country) who is a respected role model for everyone human–and an ET or two.

This is an unforgettable story about an unforgettable journey of an unforgettable noble soul. It will stir you to the depths of your being. You will hate for the story to end. You will come away from the reading wanting to live up to the trite saying that we all heard a hundred times growing up–and which George’s exploit embodies: “making this a far better world in which to live.”

I’m especially looking forward to the repopularization of the one-of-a-kind work and of the story itself, to stimulate the young to break free from the mold of the imperial-corporate culture of the Grand Collective and establish a New Paradigm of creative individualism. A giant thank you to Mr. Meegan across the ocean!

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